Tuesday, April 27

Cheery thoughts

Who’d be a Birmingham resident now the council has lost its equal-pay tribunal? £1 billion is probably chicken feed, given the public service cuts that will hit the city post-election. With only eight days remaining before punters vent their spleen, interest (at least here) is fading fast. I’ve got twenty quid on McPlonker pegging out before election-day. The Times latest (Populus) poll puts the Tories back where they were prior to the debates, though a subsequent rival will probably contradict it. Perhaps we should be grateful. There was a similar lull to this a hundred years ago ... suddenly, everyone was gearing up for the First World War, an Easter Rising, the Russian Revolution, the rise of fascism and the Spanish Civil War, the blossoming of anti-colonial passions in Africa and India, Stalinist purges, the Second World War and Hitler’s final solution, the advent of Mao, the Cold War ... I could go on. Wonder what’s waiting around the corner this time? Vote Clegg and scrap Trident? Don’t think so.

Friday, April 23

St George's day

St George’s day and everything’s right with the world. I’m sitting on a tree stump in the heat of the afternoon surrounded by sheep ... overhead two gleds (buzzards), wings spread wide – raked black tips, are spiralling upwards in a thermal embrace.

The newly cut oak has a diameter of 54 inches which, by my reckoning, translates into a fair number of beer kegs. As it happens, tonight’s celebration features a tarragon-flavoured BBQ chicken and a bottle or two of oak-aged Innis & Gunn. Yes, I know, toasting the patron saint of England with Scottish beer isn’t exactly kosher, but with the national flag fluttering overhead there’s Mrs G. to consider.

Wednesday, April 21

Swallows and vapour trails

Would that the days drifted a little slower. It’s almost as though you leap out of bed, reach for the socks ... and suddenly everyone’s eating supper. Everyone who isn’t leaving the sinking ship that is, the sky’s a profusion of vapour trails now Iceland’s ash cloud has dissipated. Even the swallows are airborne – our first pair of the season, casting their shadows on sunlit walls.

The LibDems have launched an assault, leafleting the barn. In our age of multiculturalism it seems strange they should attack the Conservative candidate for the sole reason of having been born in Wiltshire. Give ’em their due however, bright yellow primroses decorate the lanes in what seems a springtime conspiracy, a local farmer has even dyed his flock a complementary shade of citrine.

Tuesday, April 20

Early to rise ...

Perhaps I was a tad hasty yesterday, forecasting changeable weather: today has been another gloriously sunny day. Up on the north Devon/Cornish coast ... ah the lengths to which I’ll go for a decent ice cream. £1.20 for the vanilla cone, ten quid for two gallons of diesel. Nearly came a cropper driving cross-country to a remote stretch of beach. One of these days I really will buy a 4x4 with decent ground clearance. Back home to barbequed guinea fowl – making the most of it while we can.

Talking of birds ... thanks to my making free with the niger seed we’ve built up a sizeable following of siskins and goldfinches in the yard. Our dawn chorus has become a composition of multiple parts, not least in the blackbirds – the cellos of the deep farms, the cooing doves, and the ringing notes of the wrens and robins. If neighbours made as much noise you’d be calling the council. Throw in a crowing cock pheasant, neighing horses and Farmer Charles’s dawn pot shots with the 10-guage, and the chances of sleeping in are extremely limited.

Monday, April 19

Squalls and curried goat

Trees shimmer and insects dance but you can feel the breeze turning, sense the change. Not that change is necessarily a bad thing, at least we’ve got rid of that lad from MOTD 2. I finished the last of Mrs G’s curried goat, eating the final bowl for breakfast. It was too good to waste, not only tasty but healthier (seemingly), less rich than her lamb version. My turn to cook this evening: Udang Halia: prawns with ginger to you and me (still in my Singapore phase). The Boss is experimenting with a new live yeast, producing a succession of loaves, each one tweaked a little further. Any thought of moving house is on the back burner: thanks to the changing political climate and the outside chance of McPlonker remaining in office, Mrs G. has already packed our bags in anticipation of a new life overseas.

Saturday, April 17

Perhaps, like jackdaws, it really can happen that quickly?

A flock is roosting out back of the yard, amongst the oaks. Jacks or daws are often viewed as knaves, rogues with thieving habits, nuisances to be persecuted. Conversely they will pair for life, the two almost always being seen together. A solitary bird is said to be a sign of death.The Austrian ornithologist, Konrad Lorenz, produced a study on daws that documented their straight-line hierarchy: the top-ranking jackdaws displayed an aloofness proper to their aristocratic roles, the middle classes pecked at the lower classes, and the lower classes pecked at the unhappy spinsters. One day a lone male prodigal returned to the flock he was following. Armed with the courage and assurance of an experienced traveler, the interloper fixed the dominant male with a metallic stare, and by day two had displaced him as leader. As daws pair for life and are faithful, the new ruler had to resort to the bottom of the pile to find a mate; a mate who subsequently extracted sweet revenge from those who’d persecuted her. Be careful what you wish for.

Friday, April 16

Go figure

The debate proved more interesting than I’d thought it would be. Having engaged with far smaller audiences over the years, once making a total arse of myself on TV, I can only guess at how difficult it is to perform at this level. Cameron et al were understandably nervous, though hardly the caught-in-the-headlights terror of Blair at Chilcot. I’m cynical about the extent to which our beard & sandals brigade will ultimately benefit from Clegg's initial success. Unrequited Lib(Dem) enthusiasm has been a feature of elections since I began voting, from the debacle of Jeremy Thorpe through to David Steel and the heady days of David Owen and Shirley Williams, from Paddy Ashdown to the genial Charles Kennedy. Of course ‘this time’ it could be different; in an era of vacuous talent-shows and celebrity culture, perhaps Nick Clegg really is the next Susan Boyle. I’ve listened to a couple of dozen voters commenting on what they believe they saw/heard: all watched the same three individuals but had a completely different take on what was presented to them. I suspect an audience sees what it wants to see and interprets the message to suit a predisposition, which in a way makes the debates somewhat meaningless. The next set of polls should be interesting – I’d expect the LibDems to be taking 1% from the Tories, 2% from Labour, and 3% from none of the above. Wonder what the viewing figures were?

Thursday, April 15

To cut or not to cut, that is the question.

The timing varies from area to area, and is dependent on the grass dry matter yield, crude protein content, digestibility, and water soluble carbohydrate/sugar content. But enough of silage, topic of the day at the Dog & Duck, I’m more interested in our yard, which is drying out fast and looking like an acre of turnips. It’s tempting to let a couple of sheep through the gate and have the woollies take care of things. I’m busy on the barbeque: chilli pork for tonight’s debate supper.

Wednesday, April 14

Who gives a crap

You have to struggle through acres of election pornography for just a glimpse of last night’s match reports. Those bats lodging behind the oak lintel above the door are less annoying. It’s the same old ... everything has altered but nothing has changed. I know, this is hardly the 1970s, but ...

Came across a putrefying sheep in the stream yesterday afternoon, it was writ large with symbolism. McPlonker now admits to mistakes but swears he didn’t inhale. Voters should be outraged, yet choose a plague on everyone’s house in the hope our problems will disappear whilst their backs are turned. Doubtless we’ll get what we deserve at the end of the day. As with the Catholic Church, blaming their troubles on Jews one day and gays the next, people tend to attribute misfortune to anyone but themselves.

Tuesday, April 13

Monday, April 12

Smelling the roses

What a great weekend: sunshine, walking out yonder and cup semi-finals. This year’s Exeter food fest appeared well attended, with Michael Caines to the fore. I probably spent too much time sampling product from Torrington’s Clearwater Brewery (Devon Dympsy), but having found a comfortable stool it was good to people watch for a change. It’s handy having so many suppliers in the same tent, you can stock up on the wild beef and salt marsh lamb, sample a decent range of cheeses and smoked meats. Mrs G. purchased a cheese board you could plank a floor with, recouping her money with the winner at Aintree. Oh well, back to work – busy week.

Saturday, April 10

The promise of today

A veritable heat wave ... and a plague of flies descend on the yard. It’s the same each year. The shed floor is buried beneath a carpet of the little blighters and the thatch is alive with their urgent buzz (then again it could be my tinnitus?). It’s part and parcel of living in farming country. Though barbeque is on today’s agenda you wouldn’t risk eating alfresco. For the first time this year a heat-shimmer distorts the view across the common. No election campaign to distract out there; spring lambs chase butterflies through the gorse, as paragliding voyeurs perform grand pirouettes above the skylarks’ chirruping, whistling notes. And for Villa, a chance to redeem themselves.

Wednesday, April 7

They're off

Grief, there’s nothing on the wireless but political campaigning and pundit commentary. West Country Tories are off to a flying start thanks to the demise of McPlonker’s cider tax, arguably the shortest tax in history. Paddy Pantsdown is the first so-called big-hitter to visit the region, flying the flag for the totally irrelevant party. The LibDems used to dominate large sections of this neck of the woods until their profligate spending came home to roost in the form of escalating council-tax demands. Everyone claims to want more services until the bill arrives, at which point voters decide they were nice-to-haves after all. I suspect there’ll be a large element of this in the national vote. Enough has suddenly become enough. All those taxes, and the NHS still expect us to eat slop and to share a hospital ward with countless assorted miscreants. Our local Conservative MP (Nicholas van Hoogstraten’s brief) is defending a modest majority after ousting the LibDem incumbent in 2005. The odds on a Tory national majority at kick-off was 8/13; be interesting to see how this changes.

Sunday, April 4

Compulsory leisure time

It seems the world and its granny are visiting Devon. The roads are certainly lively, driving somewhat speedier than the usual sedate rural motoring. It’s not that we don’t sometimes fancy ourselves as the new Paddy Hopkirk, it is more the certain knowledge that around each and every blind-corner there’s a tractor or escaped bullock waiting to jump up and bite you. Needless to say the level of accidents grows exponentially. According to Exeter airport everyone that actually lives here has gone to Spain for the week, seeking warmer and dryer weather. As the yard remains a quagmire there’s little for me to do (on what [technically] is a holiday) but put my feet up and listen to the footy.

Thursday, April 1

Typical Easter weather

Mrs G. relieved the disappointment of Tuesday night by roasting half ’a sheep. Should tide us over for a few days and is a welcome change from pheasant casserole – there can’t be many more in the freezer? The daffs are history as Easter arrives with a storm and our yard furniture scatters to the four corners of the neighbour’s paddock. Folk begin drifting in for the holiday break, tractors giving way to Panzerwagens and the reservoir car park echoing to lederhosen accents. Snow’s not significant hereabouts, more like that surf scum you get on the sand dunes, but it is cold once you get up top.

Out on the moor individual farmers mark their sheep with coloured aerosol paint to identify them, and the local guy favours the same colour as Tony Blair’s tan, orange horns adding colour to grey faces ... Can you believe how the reptiles reacted to Blair’s surprise appearance up in Trimdon this week? Five minutes ago he was appearing in front of Chilcot and the media were drowning beneath a sea of spite and bile. The prodigal returns to enliven the election campaign and they fawn like groupies. If he unbuttoned his flies the BBC would probably drop to its knees and suck his dick. Needless to say I’m not a fan.

I’m rushing to complete my latest TMA. A brief two-thousand words on Beckett, a cursory nod to Sartre, Camus and Bishop Berkeley, and I should be nearing the final straight (for the current course) and begin working on my ECA. It’s been a whirlwind look at some of the debates surrounding 20th Century literature and has involved a significant amount of reading. At times I’ve felt like the archetypal American tourist attempting to ‘do Europe’ in three weeks. When I get five minutes I’ve been trying to read the Crace book, though the initial couple of chapters don’t stand well alongside James Sallis. Hopefully it will mirror Arsenal and redeem itself as the story unfolds. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, one of the books recommended by PR54, sits half-way down the reading list.